Possible Paths to Peace and Presence


In my ongoing search for ways to become more Present, I’ve been researching a variety of practices. I recognize that this will not be an easy journey, and whatever practices I pursue could take years, so I’m looking to narrow the list to several paths that (a) will show some early success, so I know I’m on a promising path at least and (b) are activities I enjoy rather than finding onerous.

To me, Presence is what happens when I’m keenly aware of all four aspects of my identity — intellectual, emotional, sensual and instinctual — and when they are in balance, integrated, whole, under control. When I’m present I feel at once aware and relaxed. When I’m truly present, I am “just the space through which stuff passes, touching the right stuff in just the right way as it passes through”, and I approach each moment and situation using this process:

Sense: Observe, listen, pay attention. Reflect. Focus. Be open. Perceive. Connect. Intuit.
Self-control: No judgements, expectations or jumping to conclusions. Stay calm. Focus. Self-manage. Breathe. Let go.
Understand: Assemble the facts. Appreciate the context. Know why things are the way they are. Sympathize. Accept. Keep learning. Let come.
Question: Ask, don’t tell. Challenge. Think critically.
Imagine: Picture, hear, feel what could be. Envision a better way and find pathways there.
Offer: Consider. Give. Suggest possibilities. Articulate. Demonstrate. Lend a hand. Facilitate. Help. Make it easier/ more fun.
Collaborate: Create something together. Recreate. Let collective approaches evolve. Yield, shift, build on, bridge, adapt.

The intellectual and emotional “me”, the product of my culture, is, alas, most of the time disconnected from the instinctual and sensual “me”, the product of my biology. I suppose this is the classical mind/body disconnect. These two “selves” manifest within me and to the world differently, and drive me in different directions:

VISCERAL “ME” (Instinctual/Sensual self)
(A product of biology)
SOCIAL “ME” (Intellectual/Emotional self)
(A product of culture)
What I want to do (my Passions) Less. Have fun. Look after myself.
Eat well, sleep soundly, make love often.  Play.
Listen to good music. Walk in the forest.
Dance in the moonlight. With kittens.
Imagine possibilities.
Converse. Demonstrate how to do things I do well.
Explore. Learn.
My public manifestation (Persona) Comfortable. Lazy. Hedonistic, Playful.
Somewhat introverted (INTP).
Anxious. Intentional. Intense. Earnest.
Somewhat extroverted (ENTJ).
My worldview Pragmatic. Accepting. Idealistic. Outraged.
My reaction to stressful situations Tighten up. Get inflamed, ill.
Wonder why the stress doesn’t go away quickly.
Rise to the occasion, for awhile.
Then tire, lose heart, when the stress doesn’t go away.
Then feel anger, fury, grief, fear, self-dissatisfaction, resentment, despair.
What I care about (my Purpose) Eating. Sleeping. That really hot woman over there.
All-life-on-Earth, especially cats, dogs, wolves, birds, trees.
The people I love, whose company stirs my chemistry.
Helping people cope with civilization’s collapse.
Obsolescing industrial agriculture. Stopping the Tar Sands.
Helping people find the right collaborative partners.
Deschooling society.
Helping people learn about sustainable community.
Helping people learn to deal with complexity.
Helping people discover the work they’re meant to do.
The people I love, whose company stirs my mind & imagination.
What I strive to be Warm. Naked. Rested. Alert. Comfortable. In love.
Alternatively alone and in stimulating company.
Free to be nobody-but-myself.
Present. Calm. Humble. Graceful.
Self-knowing and empathetic.
An exceptional communicator, story-teller, fiction writer.
Free to be nobody-but-myself.
Where I belong Warm, abundant wilderness. Loving, stimulating community.

So my “Presence” challenge is to bring these two “selves” together and get the four aspects of my identity working in concert. Here are some of the practices I am thinking about trying, to do this:

  1. No-language week (or two): Spending a week or two at home, without reading or writing anything, without listening to or saying any words. I can do this by stocking up on foods and using only recipes I’ve committed to heart (or eating raw); and by turning off the phone and the laptop, and turning the iPhone on only to play playlists of preselected instrumental music. I rarely get surprise visitors, and the neighbours are far enough away I can’t overhear conversations. And I can still go for runs and walks in the forest, where I rarely encounter others. It would be interesting to try doing this with someone else, but I suspect it will be a solitary adventure. I’ve read about people who have done this, outside of any religious context, and it appears to have brought them a heightened awareness of their senses, emotions and instincts. After a while, they stopped “talking to themselves” and began to think differently, more expansively, in ways not constrained or defined by language.
  2. Yoga / meditation: I have tried both, but have persevered with neither. Time to give them another chance. Possibly Vinyasa yoga this time, since it might complement mindfulness meditation due to the attention of both on the breath.
  3. Therapy: I took a course in co-counselling this year, and acknowledge that, like everyone else, I need to heal myself from the damage that the civilized world has inflicted on me. But as a phenomenologist philosophically I am inclined to seek more existential (and perhaps less orthodox) approaches to therapy than the currently popular ones.
  4. Self-acceptance: As a complement to the above, I think it would be beneficial for me to spend time just acknowledging (and learning more about) who I am, including an awareness of what my capacities and incapacities are, my motivations, and what actions (if you can follow the chart at the top of this post) I am and am not likely to take — what is and is not in my ‘nature’. And just accepting that, without self-judgement or attempts to change it. I have learned a lot about myself in the last decade; the wisdom to realize that seeking ‘self-improvement’ is sheer folly is taking longer.

The purpose of pursuing these four practices is not to change or better myself, but to know and be myself, so that the actions that I am naturally inclined and capable of taking will be more mindful, more competent, and more effective. What those actions will be remains to be seen.

[Thanks to the many readers who have suggested some approaches to the above, and other practices. I read and appreciate all suggestions, ideas and comments, particularly when my blog posts get, as they tend to do from time to time, a bit self-preoccupied. I feel as if I am getting ready for something, some major transition, but I have no idea what it will be.]

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4 Responses to Possible Paths to Peace and Presence

  1. Martin says:

    A suggestion, if I may. Try spending a lot less time in your head trying to ‘figure it out’ – one never does (figure it out, that is) – and just “BE”.

  2. Nicholas Moore says:

    As I continue to be inspired and depressed by the realities and truth that this blog offers, I find myself hopefully(-lessly) looking for my way through it all. My question is do you, readers included, know of a school or field of study that would give me a practical approach to these issues and ideas? I plan to continue my Japanese studies as well as pick up Peace Studies at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. Any direction would be appreciated.

  3. Marie says:

    For Nicholas–#2: Books by Pema Chodron have been enormously valuable personally in helping me cope with the depression/outrage that reading about climate change/peak oil/end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it can provoke. I had a therapist recommend her to me; this buddhist-centered psychotherapy has been quite effective at helping me on a number of levels. YMMV.

  4. Warm. Naked. Rested. Alert. Comfortable. In love.
    Alternatively alone and in stimulating company.
    Free to be nobody-but-myself. Just so you will know, the womb is not available once you come out. But, if it were, it would certainly be over crowded very quickly.
    It is those that are most aware that they are in a crazy world, that go crazy. Peace is in letting go. Go ahead and do it now, because when you have to leave this planet, you have to let go anyway. Let go of self expectations, of others, of the world, let go of stuff. Empty self, wipe away fear, anger. Make a conscious effort to wipe them off and shake your hands like air drying them. Be the best you you can be today. Give some, take some.

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